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Surprising Eskimos face arch-rival Stampeders in battle of unbeaten clubs

Edmonton Eskimos' Nate Coehoorn (85), Shamawd Chambers (17) and Adarius Bowman (4) celebrate a touchdown against the Ottawa Redblacks during second half action in Edmonton, Alta., on Friday July 11, 2014. They're the talk of the CFL and easily the league's biggest early season surprises.The Eskimos visit the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday night with both clubs sporting 3-0 records. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

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Edmonton Eskimos' Nate Coehoorn (85), Shamawd Chambers (17) and Adarius Bowman (4) celebrate a touchdown against the Ottawa Redblacks during second half action in Edmonton, Alta., on Friday July 11, 2014. They're the talk of the CFL and easily the league's biggest early season surprises.The Eskimos visit the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday night with both clubs sporting 3-0 records. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

Another week, another big test for Mike Reilly and the surprising Edmonton Eskimos.

Last weekend, Reilly and Co., faced the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a battle of 3-0 clubs. Reilly threw for 192 yards and a TD and added a game-high 96 yards rushing while the Eskimos defence recorded five sacks en route to a convincing 26-3 victory.

The Eskimos (4-0) will host their arch rivals, the Calgary Stampeders (3-0), on Thursday night as the Battle of Alberta becomes a showdown between the CFL's lone two remaining undefeated squads. Not bad for an Edmonton team that won just four games last year.

Reilly has played a big role in Edmonton's transformation. The second-year starter is third overall in passing yards (930) but has completed a solid 65.5 per cent of his passes and thrown a league-best eight touchdowns. He's also a dual threat, standing sixth overall in rushing with a team-leading 199 yards and is averaging 8.3 yards per attempt.

However Reilly will have to share the spotlight with Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who is on a CFL record pace.

A win would be Mitchell's seventh straight to begin his CFL career, which would tie the league mark currently held by former Stampeders star Jeff Garcia. The third-year pro has been solid for Calgary, having thrown for 781 yards with six TDs against no interceptions, joining Ottawa's Henry Burris as the only league starters not to have been picked off.

Mitchell also sports the CFL's top efficiency rating of 116.2.

Reilly and Mitchell are also surrounded by a solid supporting cast. Edmonton and Calgary are both averaging over 100 yards rushing per game — an impressive accomplishment for the Stampeders considering they'll again be minus CFL MVP Jon Cornish (concussion).

Calgary has also done a solid job of protecting Mitchell, allowing a league-low three sacks.

Edmonton counters with a defence that's recorded a league-best 18 sacks, not a surprise given rookie head coach Chris Jones' reputation for being innovative in how he designs and disguises his pressure packages. The Eskimos have also recorded a CFL-leading nine interceptions, six more than their closest rival.

But Calgary's defence isn't exactly chopped liver, either. It's first overall in fewest points allowed (10 per game), touchdowns (one), rushing yards (71 per game), is tied with B.C. and Toronto for fewest rushing TDs (one) and hasn't surrendered a passing touchdown this season.

And although the Stampeders have 10 sacks — which leaves them tied for sixth overall with expansion Ottawa — they do still have Charleston Hughes, who posed a league-leading 18 sacks last year.

Calgary has dominated the series of late, having amassed a 15-5 head-to-head record dating back to '08, although 11 contests have been decided in the final three minutes. Here's expecting that trend to continue.

Prediction — Calgary.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers versus B.C. Lions (10 p.m. ET on Friday night).

Winnipeg (3-1) received a huge wakeup call last weekend. Its defence was on the field for almost 39 minutes against Edmonton, which kept the CFL's top-scoring offence on the sidelines for most of the contest. Defensive back Johnny Sears and defensive lineman Jason Vega are doubtful although receiver Aaron Kelly resumed practising after missing the game against Edmonton with a knee injury. The Bombers surrendered five sacks versus Edmonton and face a resurgent B.C. squad (2-2) that's won two straight and looked very good doing so. Quarterback Kevin Glenn, who threw six interceptions in the Lions' opening two losses, passed for 301 yards and two TDs in last week's 41-5 win over Montreal. Emmanuel Arceneaux had eight catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns while Stefan Logan and Andrew Harris added 74 and 72 yards rushing, respectively. On July 12, Harris accumulated 203 offensive yards in a 26-13 win over Saskatchewan 26-13. At halftime, B.C. will add Geroy Simon, the most prolific receiver in CFL history, to its Ring of Honour.

Prediction — B.C.

Ottawa Redblacks versus Hamilton Tiger-Cats (7 p.m. ET on Saturday night).

Brett Maher booted six field goals, including the winner, as the expansion Redblacks (1-2) won their home opener 18-17 over the Toronto Argonauts. It marked Ottawa's first CFL home victory since November 2005 and moved the club into a tie with Toronto (1-3) and Montreal (1-3) atop the East Division. But that doesn't mask Ottawa's offensive struggles this season as it's averaging just 19 points per game. The unit has scored just four TDs and didn't find the end zone against Toronto. However, a good equalizer could be quarterback Henry Burris, who led Hamilton to a Grey Cup appearance last year before being released this off-season. Hamilton (0-3) hasn't set the CFL on fire offensively in Burris's absence, currently ranked last in offensive yards (213.3 per game) and scoring (13.7 points). But the Ticats were a mishandled snap away from kicking the tying field goal last week against Calgary before ultimately dropping a 10-7 decision. Starter Zach Collaros (concussion) resumed practising this week but won't play. Hamilton was supposed to officially open Tim Hortons Field but will play at McMaster University due to construction delays.

Prediction — Hamilton.

Toronto Argonauts versus Saskatchewan Roughriders (10 p.m. ET on Saturday night).

On July 5, Toronto (1-3) hammered Saskatchewan (1-2) at Rogers Centre 48-15. Argos quarterback Ricky Ray threw for over 400 yards and three TDs that afternoon. Twenty of his 29 completions were to Chad Owens (11), Andre Durie (five) and Jason Barnes (four) for a combined 275 yards and two touchdowns. That's worth noting because all three receivers are injured and won't play. Ray remains the CFL passing leader with 1,280 yards after throwing for 298 yards last week in Ottawa but had more interceptions (first two of the season) than TD strikes (one). It's been a miserable start to the year for defending Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan as quarterback Darian Durant has a 55.3 per cent completion average with almost as many interceptions (four) as touchdowns (five). But Durant and Co. will remember what happened the last time they faced Toronto, and this time they will have a loud Mosaic Stadium gathering solidly behind them.

Prediction — Saskatchewan.

Record so far: 7-9.

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